Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
Early Church Music 1600s-1796 Continued
First Congregational Church
Gradually, more new hymns came into publication, the number of hymnals increased in our church, and a growing number of people learned how to read music. This eventually led to the development of the church choir. In 1782, a request had been made to allot a certain part of the Meeting House for congregants who could sing by rule. The town approved and granted the singers two hind seats (perhaps meaning rear seats) in the men’s side of the church and two in the women’s side. Interestingly, the church was apparently separated into men’s and women’s sections. A few years later, the choir was given seats in the galleries, which had been added in 1773. The concept of a gallery choir was a fairly new development in the 1770s. While it might seem odd that the entire town was voting on things like this, we need to remember that back then this was the only church in town, the town paid for the church, and most residents of the town were members of the church.
History has recorded the names of Rindge people who were active in church music. For example, in 1782, the town selected Nathaniel Ingalls, David Adams, and David Sherwin to help Deacon Towne in setting the psalms (meaning to choose an appropriate tune for each psalm) and to lead the singing of each psalm during the service. In 1789, William Gardner, Eliphalet Wood, Joseph Crumbie, and William Sherwin were asked by the church to serve as choristers. Choristers were lead musicians who gave the pitch and led the tunes. Well-known families with church musicians included the Townes, the Sherwins, the Carltons, and the Cutlers. These and several other families had a close connection with the choir, which was well-regarded by the townspeople.
During the building of the second Meeting House in 1796, the town selected a committee to get input from the church singers on their desired accommodations and seating for the choir in the new building. In addition, several town grants were provided to pay for singing schools. Prior to and during this time, singing schools in Rindge were operated solely to teach religious music for the benefit of the church choir. The town exempted residents who belonged to other religious denominations from paying for these singing schools.
Unlike some other churches of the time, the Rindge Congregational church was an early adopter of musical instruments to accompany the choir. The pitch-pipe, violin, bass viol, bassoon, and other wind instruments were played in our church. Historical writings tell us that Amos Cutler played the violin, and Marshall Wilder played the bass viol.
So, we see that Rindge encouraged the use of music for worship in the first Congregational Church, and our church forefathers were open to adopting innovations during the late 1700s.
(Sources consulted are Stearn’s History of Rindge, New Hampshire 1736-1874; Music in Print: The New-England Tunebook, by Russo; The Regular Singing Controversy, by Ruggles; Toward a Theology of Proper Worship: Jonathan Edwards on Congregational Singing, by Mortier; and the Rindge Historical Society.)
6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461
United Church of Christ